My, oh my, y’all. . . this was a book. I know – not a very intelligent statement but I’m finding it hard to write a good opening line because this book is so full of amazing contrasts. It was such a good read: easy and flowed well and grabbed my attention while being one of the hardest books I have ever read due to the content. It was an emotional book to read: touching, heart-wrenching, gut-punching, joyful, exciting, scary. The ups and downs were so big and so unexpected. It was a masterfully told story, a fictional account, of one of the most real, alive people I’ve ever encountered. It grabbed hold from the beginning and did not let go, even after the writing had all been read. I read way, way past my bedtime more than once because I could not put this book down. But be prepared, it is tough because this is real life being described.
It is not about a real person. It is a novel. However, it is based on the lives of millions of people abducted from their homelands and brought to America as slaves. Aminata is the central character of this story and she was abducted from her home, amidst a very violent, deadly episode, when she was only 11. I. Can’t. Even. Imagine. Everything you have ever heard about slavery is brought to clear, distinct detail in Aminata’s life. She is so very real that the horrors inflicted on her throughout her life are clear, almost as if you are seeing them happen right before your eyes.
We agreed to discuss the questions from LitLovers for this book. I picked some of the questions but there are others that might be interesting for you to explore.
1 – What is the significance of the title Someone Knows My Name?
One of the important statements that is brought to life throughout the book is that one’s name is a recognition of them as a human, as a person. So to know someone’s name is to recognize them as a real person and to show them some respect. I think one of my favorite scenes for this was when, as slaves aboard the ship bringing them to America, they would sing their names, loud and clear, proclaiming who they were and not allowing that to be lost, through all the rest of the losses that were occurring.
2 – What is your opinion about Hill’s suggestion that Aminata’s very youthfulness at the time of her abduction enables her emotional survival, even as some of the adults in her world show signs of crumbling?
This truth is seen over and over again, though accidents and injuries and all the other things in this world that try to rip us apart. The children seem best able to mold into what is needed for the next step of our life’s journey. The youthfulness of Aminata allowed her to see that she could change, to remember her father’s and mother’s instruction, and to continue on, full of survival and life.
3 – Aminata suffers some horrifying cruelties at the hands of her captors, but her relationships with her masters aren’t always what you’d expect. How does Aminata’s story reveal the complex ways that people react to unnatural, unequal relationships?
Fear and misunderstanding drives a lot of the communication barriers that exist. I think this is clear with the story, as well. Aminata’s first master in America was fearful and didn’t really know how to react amid that kind of fear. It almost seems that he knew how reliant he was on the slaves and was fearful that he would lost his standing without them. Yet her second master didn’t really treat her like a master. He treated her like an employer who was unsure and fearful. He wanted to do right but didn’t really know how to in the social climate they lived in. We often make decisions based on emotions and emotions do not always lead us in the way we need to go.
4 – During the course of the story, Aminata marries and has a family. Although she is separated from them, she is reunited from time to time with her husband and one of her children. What does the work tell us about the nature of love and loyalty?
Love and loyalty are natural, God given blessings that provide us with strength and courage when we choose to embrace them. Aminata was often driven forward by the loyalty she felt to her family, enveloped by the constant hope that she would find them again one day.
5 – Aminata struggles to learn and master all sorts of systems of communicating in the new world: black English, white English, and Gullah, as well as understanding the uses of European money and maps. How do her various coping mechanisms shed light on her character?
Aminata has a flexible, eager mind that allows her to learn and to continue to learn. She was encouraged to learn by her father and mother and she never forgot that. She knew that learning was a way in which she could move forward, even when she didn’t know where “forward” was leading. This ability to learn made her very valuable to others because she could help them while helping herself.
6 – What does the novel tell us about survival? Which characters fare best and why?
Survival is making it through. The characters that fare best are those who are willing to try, to keep an open mind (or at least one that is willing to allow for other’s dictation), and to see that there is more out there. Many of the characters that survive do so by pushing forward in spite of the hardships, cruelty, or severity of inequality they faced. They were willing to look forward towards that unknown possibility of something better. They had HOPE.
7 – What do you think would be the challenges involved in writing a realistically painful novel that still offers enough light and hope to maintain the reader’s interest and spirit?
I’ll be honest with you – when I first started reading this and realized it was not quite what I thought it was going to be, I just about quit. I was forced to read a very graphic, very disgusting novel in high school about slavery and it has turned me off to reading anything about slavery. That novel from high school was designed to create disgust, hatred of slavery, and elicit sorrow for the slaves. While those are not bad ideas to foster in the reader of a novel about slavery, it was done by sensationalizing the horrors of slavery, the mistreatment of slaves, and more. It was terrifying to read and I remember having trouble sleeping because of it. I have looked with disdain on all books about slavery because of it.
Hill’s book has changed that for me. He has done an amazing job of creating disgust over the treatment and abduction of millions of innocent humans, hatred of slavery, and eliciting sorrow for all of those swallowed up by slavery. However, he did it by creating a human character that tells the story in an emotional way that the reader can connect with. Hill created Aminata in such a way that her HOPE resonates throughout the story, even through those darkest time, sometimes through those she has shared HOPE with when she cannot feel that HOPE herself. This story needed the drastic detail but it is done with care and concern, recognizing that these were people being treated in such horrendous ways. The detail does not sensationalize the events but rather treats with honor and respect the characters going through horrific events, eliciting that honest sorrow for the character.
Truly, I thoroughly enjoyed this books and will highly recommend it to anyone who asks. I am thankful to Annette from A Net In Time for the review she originally published about it and the discussions we had about it while she was reading it. She opened my mind to it and then suggested it while I was trying to decide on a book for this month to suggest to Wendy. This has been a great read.
Please visit Wendy at Ladybug Daydreams to read about her experience with this book and her thoughts. She will be answering some of these same questions. I expect Annette from A Net In Time to join us as well.
For January, we will be posting on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. This one, I’ll admit, I am going to be brave about. I’ve picked it up before and thought the synopsis was interesting but the pictures? Well, let’s just say the induced me to put it right back down. I’ve agreed to be brave and give it a fair shot for January though. Will you join us?